The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-Funded "Take Charge of Your Life" Curriculum Longitudinal Study Findings Released

    • March 31, 2009

In February 2001, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) awarded a $13.7-million grant to Zili Sloboda, Sc.D., of the Institute for Health and Social Policy at the University of Akron to develop and test the “Take Charge of Your Life” (TCYL) coursework, disseminated through the D.A.R.E. delivery system. The study’s research findings appear in the April issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. These three articles include "The Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Study: A Randomized Field Trial of a Universal Substance Abuse Prevention Program," "Universal School-Based Substance Abuse Prevention Programs: Modeling Targeted Mediators and Outcomes for Adolescent Cigarette, Alcohol and Marijuana Use," and "The Influence of Program Mediators on Eleventh Grade Outcomes for Seventh Grade Substance Users and Non-Users."

Our mission at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is to improve the health and health care of all Americans. Our goal is clear: Help Americans lead healthier lives and receive the care they need. More than 2 million children under the age of 17 are considered drug or alcohol dependent according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). We set out to determine if, and in what ways, the TCYL coursework would make a difference in tobacco, alcohol and illegal substance use among middle school students in six U.S. cities. RWJF is proud to have supported this study and its important contribution to prevention research.

The intent of the pilot was to test TCYL’s effectiveness and the D.A.R.E. delivery of providing students with life skills such as communication, decision-making, assertiveness and refusal skills—skills students need in order to act on their desire not to use. Additionally, it aimed to help middle school students develop an understanding of the personal, social, and legal risks and consequences involved in the use of substances including tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs. The TCYL coursework has had a positive or beneficial behavioral and perceptual impact for those students considered “high-risk”—meaning those who began using marijuana in their early teens, before or by the seventh grade. There was also a significant negative finding: a 3–4 percent increase in alcohol and cigarette use among 11th grade students who weren’t using either substance in seventh grade (at the beginning of the study). Based on this pilot study, D.A.R.E. is transitioning to a new middle school course called keepin’ it REAL, which has been included on the federal government’s National Registry of Effective Prevention Programs (SAMSHA).

Learning from what works and what doesn’t is as important as identifying and promoting innovation. Indeed, program evaluation is an important cornerstone of all of our efforts at RWJF. We strive to learn from our work in many fields. In any given year, we invest about 20 percent of our annual grants budget on research and evaluation. These range from small program assessments that rely to a great degree on expert judgment, to multimillion dollar mixed-method evaluations (e.g. that a variety of quantitative and qualitative approaches are employed) of program outcomes. 

Given this commitment, we funded the largest and most comprehensive substance use prevention research effort to date with our grant to the University of Akron for the Take Charge of Your Life coursework study. The research evaluation team led an ambitious evaluation that went beyond any other previous study of school-based drug prevention in both scope and sophistication at that time. As a result, the study provides a rich data set for researchers to mine, and a valuable road map for future investments in the field of drug and alcohol prevention research.

David Colby, Ph.D.
Vice President, Research and Evaluation
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.